After dream-fulfilling day, Graham Rahal isn’t worried anymore

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When Graham Rahal had his first victorious day, at St. Petersburg in the now distant year of 2008, his mother, Debi, wasn’t there.

She was in Greece with her youngest daughter.

When his second day came, seven long years later at Auto Club Speedway, she was busy taking care of her three grandchildren.

But at Mid-Ohio Sunday, Graham’s third day, she was finally there. She stood in Graham’s pit box watching him fulfill a dream he’d had his entire life:

Winning at the his home track, the only one that could rival Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“In fact, I had a dream Friday night that I won,” Rahal admitted. “I guess sometimes dreams do come true.  I don’t know what else to say.”

The dream became reality as his father and owner, 1985 and ’86 race winner Bobby Rahal, watched over him from his spotter position in Turn 4. It was his first time at an IndyCar race since before the Fontana win. 

“Coming here for so many years, I have been on the podium with dad before, saying, ‘Gentlemen, start your engines’ (1998, at age 9), it’s just like the ties to this are amazing,” Rahal said. “That’s why it’s so cool to have my whole family here and be able to do something like this.”

The dream reached its apex as Graham took a slow victory lap and conducted his second burnout in four races in front of a mass of cheering fans on a hillside.

“I couldn’t hear them, but I could see them.  I could see them all going crazy.  That was pretty cool,” said Graham, who saw fans standing on fences to cheer when he first cycled to the lead under caution.

“I was like, ‘This is awesome.’  Who knows if you’re ever going to see that day.”

After 2008 that was a question often raised of the heir to IndyCar royalty, who raced on five teams between that year and 2013, when he settled in at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. In 2010 alone, without a full-time ride, he raced for four different teams.

In that time there were no wins.

“I feel very confident I would have won a lot more races earlier in my career if I had the maturity and the race craft that I do now,” says Rahal.

“I mean, I drove for some good teams and I had some quick cars, particularly 2009 with Newman/Haas, it was a great program.  I think if I had known what the heck I was doing then, we probably would have won some races.

“Seven years that taught me a lot, taught me to be a lot more thankful for the opportunities that have come throughout my career.

His opportunity now is with his father’s own team, a single-car operation that’s a different specimen from the Newman/Haas and Ganassi teams he once competed for and struggled with. Now, with the two races left and only nine points separating him and first place, Rahal says he’s finally not worried about when he’ll win again.

“I think I used to put so much pressure on myself just to win, I probably made some mistakes, in 2011, ’12, that I shouldn’t have,” Rahal lamented after a nearly flawless race.

“But now I feel like it’s kind of behind me.  Everybody always told me after I won my first, the second one would be a lot harder, then they would get easier from there.

“Hopefully that comes true.”

But he’s not worrying about it, at least not today.

“When it’s your day sometimes it’s your day.”

Miguel Oliveira wins MotoGP Thai Grand Prix, Bagnaia closes to two points in championship

MotoGP Thai Grand Prix
Mirco Lazzari / Getty Images
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Miguel Oliveira mastered mixed conditions on the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand to win the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix. Oliveira showed the adaptability as he navigated a race that began in wet conditions and turned dry over the course of the race. Oliveira won the Indonesian GP in similar conditions.

“It was a long race, but I can’t complain,” Oliveira said on CNBC. “Every time we get to ride in the wet, I’m always super-fast. When it started raining, I had flashbacks of Indonesia. I tried to keep my feet on the ground, make a good start and not make mistakes and carry the bike to the end.”

All eyes were on the championship, however. Francesco Bagnaia got a great start to slot into second in Turn 1.

Meanwhile Fabio Quartararo had a disastrous first lap. He lost five positions in the first couple of turns and then rode over the rumble strips and fell back to 17th. At the end of the first lap, Bagnaia had the points’ lead by two. A win would have added to the gain and for a moment, it appeared Bagnaia might assume the lead.

Early leader Marco Bezzecchi was penalized for exceeding track limits, but before that happened, Jack Miller got around Bagnaia and pushed him back to third. Oliveira was not far behind.

After throwing away ninth-place and seven points on the last lap of the Japanese GP last week, Bagnaia did not allow the competition to press him into a mistake. He fell back as far as fourth before retaking the final position on the podium.

“It’s like a win for me, this podium,” Bagnaia. “My first podium in the wet and then there was a mix of conditions, so I’m very happy. I want to thank Jack Miller. Before the race, he gave me a motivational chat.”

Miller led the first half of the Thai Grand Prix before giving up the top spot to Oliveira and then held on to finish second. Coupled with his Japanese GP win, Miller is now fully in the MotoGP championship battle with a 40-point deficit, but he will need a string of results like Bagnaia has put together in recent weeks – and he needs Bagnaia to lose momentum.

Miller’s home Grand Prix in Australia is next up on the calendar in two weeks.

Bagnaia entered the race 18 points behind Quartararo after he failed to score any in Japan. The balance of power has rapidly shifted, however, with Quartararo now failing to earn points in two of the last three rounds. Bagnaia won four consecutive races and finished second in the five races leading up to Japan. His third-place finish in Thailand is now his sixth MotoGP podium in the last seven rounds.

Aleix Espargaro entered the race third in the standings with a 25-point deficit to Quartararo, but was able to close the gap by only five after getting hit with a long-lap penalty for aggressive riding when he pushed Darryn Binder off course during a pass for position. Espargaro finished 11th.

Rain mixed up the Moto2 running order in the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix as well. Starting on a wet track, Somkiat Chantra led the opening lap in his home Grand Prix. He could not hold onto it and crashed one circuit later, but still gave his countrymen a moment of pride by winning the pole.

Half points were awarded as the race went only eight laps before Tony Arbolino crossed under the checkers first with Filip Salac and Aron Canet rounding out the podium.

American Joe Roberts earned another top-10 in eighth with Sean Dylan Kelly finishing just outside the top 10 in 11th.